Imagine being a young child in school and having to worry about your next meal. This is the reality for countless children living in poverty in the United States. Breakfast and lunch at school may be the only meals which some students can count on each day. Dinners during the week may be served, but what about the weekend? Schools that are in areas with high poverty have found that some children do not have food on the weekend. This has spurred some districts to begin backpack food programs.
Backpack Food Programs
What are backpack food programs? In many schools, they are a grassroots effort run program which revolves around sending food home for children to have over the weekend. Food donations are given to the schools to place in a backpack which provides needed nutrients for children not to be hungry while home two days. Typically, there is an individual in the school who would have the names of children who would benefit from food being sent home. This confidential information is not shared with anyone else. People prepare the bags, but no names are on them to keep it private.
Backpacks are recollected each Monday to start the process for the next week. Volunteers from the community come in during the week to assist with getting food and packing the bags. Once the bags are packed the individual in the building brings the bags to the children to take home for the weekend. This individual is typically the school nurse or one of the counselors to help with the privacy. Other kids are not aware of what is being distributed.
Cost and Benefits of the Programs
Schools which have a backpack program report that they have seen an increase in student productivity. Kids are able to focus and do not have to worry about food and being hungry over the weekend. What is the cost? One school district in the Capital Region of New York notes that it costs $239 to feed one child each weekend of the year. They put food items which are healthy and easy to prepare. This includes granola bars, peanut butter, bread, oatmeal packets, cereal, canned vegetables, soup, tuna, and juice.
The key to making the program a success is to get community involvement. Individuals from schools and volunteers must reach out to members of your community to see where there are connections for donations. Once you know the number of backpacks needed, write proposals and look for grants to cover the cost of food.
Parents, teachers, & other school staff can contact food banks, educational funds, other organizations, and businesses which may be willing to assist. Working together this is a program that can help countless students and families. If you have a backpack program in your school please share how it is run. What are some ways that you would coach others who are starting their own backpack program?